Sweethearts Reconnect After Decades Apart
MICHEL MARTIN, Host:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up, he is a Japanese/British/Canadian artist who has found his muse in African American women. We'll hear from Tim Okamura about just what sparks his creative interests. That conversation in just a few minutes.
But first, now we are going to open up the pages of the Washington Post magazine, something we do just about every week to find interesting stories about the way we live now.
Today, we have a story about the power of young love. At a football game in 1966, Debi Waeber first spotted a young Kevin Carroll. He was the cutest boy the eighth grade Waeber had ever seen. Carroll spied Debi and knew she was the girl he wanted to take to homecoming and soon, she became the girl with whom he wanted to plan a life.
Debi's pregnancy, even though they were both only teenagers, seemed to fit with that. Kevin ultimately decided that the best way to provide for their family would be to join the military, and yet, that very thing that was supposed to provide their family with stability ended up sending them down different roads completely. Kevin went to Vietnam and Debi ultimately put their daughter up for adoption.
The story could have ended there, but it did not. It took a happy turn when Kevin and Debi reunited, along with their adult daughter, last year. This past July, they finally became the family that they had dreamed of back in the late 1960s.
Their story is a subject of a piece in this week's Washington Post magazine titled "First Love," and Debi Waeber Carroll and Kevin Carroll join us now in our Washington, DC studios.
Welcome to you, lovebirds.
KEVIN CARROLL: Hi.
DEBI WAEBER CARROLL: Thanks for having us.
CARROLL: Thank you very much.
MARTIN: You know, Kevin, this story opens up in such a dramatic fashion. I mean, it describes, you know, you're in Vietnam. You had been leading a mission. You're badly, badly wounded. You've already lost a number of your comrades and the first person in your head is Debi, but - and you're trying to stay alive, you know, for her.
MARTIN: what went through your mind when you heard this?
CARROLL: Well, I didn't have a personal relationship with the Lord like I have now, but I'm kind of having this argument with him that this is really an unfair scenario. I'm 18, I'm 19,000 miles across the river. I had taken three hand grenades, arms, legs and back, bleeding pretty bad, and most of the major nerves in my arms got severed and in my legs. So I was going numb. The concussion - I couldn't hear. And I really thought I was not going to make it.
And I had this argument with him that this does not seem fair to me. You know, you're supposed to be a fair God and I wasn't going to see her. I wasn't going to see the baby, and it was very plaguing.
MARTIN: And Debi, you had your own struggles. I don't know if you argued with God during that period, but here you were. You know, you were very young and obviously, the decision to give up a child is a very difficult, deep one, you know, I would think for anyone.
Can you just try to take us back to that time, though, and what was going through your mind? Because there was never any doubt that he loved you.
CARROLL: There was never a doubt of that. Because of the situation, my parents were fabulous. They were so supporting and, you know, they did everything to protect me and they knew that I just had a terrible time thinking of giving this baby up. So, with the grace of God, a wonderful family was just brought about. You know, everything just came - the pieces just fell so nicely. And it was terrible, you know. I mean, although I just knew when I saw the family and gave Val to the parents, to the mom, I had a very wonderful sense of peace that way.
But just to go with the rest of your life and knowing your child is out there, it's very, very difficult. It's very difficult and I thought of her every day, prayed for her, you know, always hoped she was safe and happy and healthy. And, you know, did she know? And just always - and every year on her birthday... My mom was wonderful and we would - I'd stay home from school. You know, and...
MARTIN: Oh, wow.
MARTIN: To have that moment of reflection.
MARTIN: Well, you each went through a lot in the intervening years. We don't have time to talk about all that.
MARTIN: I hope people will read the piece in its entirety. It's by Ellen McCarthy, the details exactly what you went through. You, Kevin, did eventually marry; lost your wife to cancer. You had other children. But you did eventually find each other. And you found Val first and then you found Kevin. So I wanted to ask each of you in just a couple of minutes that we have is what do you think other people can read from your story? Your story is very inspiring, but it's also very unique, and I just wonder what do you think other people could draw from it?
CARROLL: Well, I can answer that a few different ways. I guess the first thing would be don't judge. Don't be judgmental. You know, you never know until you walk in someone's shoes, and I always taught my girls that. The second thing would be I was ashamed. You know, back then it's a different time, it's a different time. And I was ashamed and once I realized, I just put my feelings aside and I thought, you know what, this girl has a right to know what her background is.
You know, the first thing that happens when we walk into a doctor's office, they hand you a sheet. You know, did your, do you have any of this? She never knew that. And I just thought to myself, if nothing else, no matter what is on the other side of that door, she might not want anything to do with me, she has the right to know of her health...
MARTIN: Kevin, what about you? Final thought from you. What do you think people can draw from your story?
CARROLL: Well, I think the story speaks to hope. I think it speaks to the Lord blessing. And, you know, the Good Book says that God makes a way where there is no way. And in my case, it's fabulous, because I finally married the person that I've been in love with all my life. I found the child that was lost but now is found, and then she's married to a really great guy. I have a tremendous grandson in Zachary. Could not be more blessed, could not be more blessed.
MARTIN: Although I have to say, Debi didn't get nothing out of that deal, because Val looks exactly like you.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: She just carried the package. What's fair about that? What's fair about that? Thank you both so much for speaking with us. If you'd like to read the Washington Post magazine piece by Ellen McCarthy that the details Debbie and Kevin's amazing story, we'll have a link to it on our website. Just go to npr.org, click on the Programs tab and then on TELL ME MORE. You love birds, get out of here. You're sickening. Go. Go. Go.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
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